Imprisoned: part seven
And the weather was stagnant and sultry. An intolerable closeness, an urgent desire to exchange intelligence, or to feel that they were doing so, had driven the crowds into the streets. Honoré wormed his way along, found a patch of wall to lean against…balancing his sketchbook in the crook of his arm, he filled its pages with small notated drawings. Although an hour ago, with annoyance, he’d shaken off yet another sergent-de-ville, at this moment he felt only an exquisite detachment, no more than a bubbling undercurrent of elation.
Wherever he went these mid-July days, it seemed he must be preyed upon in this fashion. Questions were asked with a grim cheer. So far, no papers had been demanded of him, and he had shown his reporter’s notes willingly. He had not been threatened, even in language oblique, with arrest. But during each encounter, he was given two or three chances to go wrong; this, he recognized as the game of the police.
Still, he meant to avoid documenting himself by approaching the Belgian embassy, knowing that one could be assisted through official channels to an undesirable end. He might be told to go home. He might be told he had no business in Paris; that foreigners were to be expelled…and that in wartime there could be no help for this. If (owing money as he did), his address became associated with his name, he would have to move to rid himself of this hazard. He doubted he could afford to take another room. The Progressiste had not yet bloomed into its glory.
Four days after the declaration, he watched the infantry, the soldiers of the line, march to board the trains for transport to the camp at Chalons. He saw women rush into the street to kiss and embrace them, pressing on them small flags and bunches of flowers. A cavalry company, colors leading, bore onto the boulevard, the pulse of the crowd elevating with the synchronization of a thousand hoof-beats. There were near tramplings brought on by an hysterical few, who would not, in their perverse excitement, keep back. Moved by the élan with which such men could bear in this heat their shakos and high-buttoned tunics, onlookers chanted continuously:
“A bas la Prusse!”
“Vive l’armée! Vive la cavalerie!”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)